Dearborn House Democratic primary pits experience against endorsements

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Tuesday's special primary election for Michigan House District 15, covering most of Dearborn, pits a 69-year-old veteran of family law mediation against a 22-year-old whose political work has resulted in several big-name endorsements.

In the Democratic primary, Jeffrey Pepper, a lawyer who is making his third run for elected office, is competing with Alabas Farhat, who took leave from his post as a government relations appointee for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans to focus on the campaign. The district covers most of Dearborn and a small section of Detroit. 

The Democratic-leaning District 15 seat was vacated when former State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, who won the seat in November 2020, took office as Dearborn mayor.  The winner will fill the remainder of Hammoud's term, which expires at year's end.

Jeffrey Pepper, left, and Alabas Farhat.

Farhat worked for a Hammoud state house campaign when he was in high school and has been involved in politics ever since. He said he is intrigued by the timing of the opportunity, as it comes during Fiscal Year 2023 budget negotiations.

"The budget is negotiated around this time," Farhat told The Detroit News. "This is where we get the money to fill our potholes. This is where we get the funding for our schools." 

He is also worried about high insurance costs, which he believes owe partially to poor roads. When Farhat spoke to The News, he said his car had been in the shop for a week, with a $4,000 repair bill. He had to rent a car that entire time.

"If I hit a pothole on the road, that pothole should not be there," Farhat said. "If I have to make an insurance claim because of it, my premiums should not go up."

Farhat claims endorsements from his boss, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington, two local office-holders in Dearborn and several labor unions.

Jeffrey Pepper has not sought endorsements, but argued the west Dearborn area he's called him all his life will support him on Tuesday. 

Pepper has worked in family law for 42 years, specializing in domestic mediation. This is his third run for public office.

Pepper said he thought the time was right to give campaigning another try. 

"I just want to do something a little bit different to pay back the community that I love," he said.

Decades before he faced off against a 22-year-old candidate, Jeffrey Pepper was that 22-year-old candidate, running for a Wayne County Commission seat in 1974. Pepper ran as a Republican in a Democratic wave year and lost to a Democrat named John Lesinski, according to Detroit News archives.

In the 1980s he ran in a Dearborn judge race and lost.

"I ran when I was 22 and had no experience, and didn't view the lack of it as being a negative," Pepper said. "But the more experience you have, the more you realize the value of it.

"I've had kids get in car accidents at one o'clock in the morning," Pepper said. "I've had elderly parents to take care of. I've had all these life experiences that are just enlightening. I would go into that Legislature as the least seniority person in that building, But probably come in with a level of gravitas that would be respected." 

The winner between Farhat and Pepper will face in the May 3 general election a Republican named Ginger Shearer, who is the only candidate in the GOP primary. 

The May election will be the last for District 15. The Michigan Redistricting Commission's new maps, which split Dearborn into multiple state House districts, will apply in the November election.

Nabih Ayad represented the Detroit legislative caucus before the Michigan Supreme Court in its legal challenge against the new state House maps. The challenge failed.

He said he knows both candidates and did not want to weigh in on who should win. 

"I think my opinion really doesn't matter too much at this stage," Ayad said. "I think either one of them would do a great job."